Categories
Gadgets Highlights International Review Singapore

New Apple Fitness Service Introduces Healthy Competition to the Fitness App Industry

Testing italics 

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) is reportedly working on launching a bundled fitness-oriented service by October for the higher end, to push its services business into the fitness and digital health industry. Apple’s fitness app is set to move into the digital-only subscription fitness space dominated by Peloton and Nike, that provides access to a library of virtual fitness classes at a monthly price that is lower than your typical gym membership.

And while the details remain unclear, Apple’s fitness app sounds very much similar to Peloton (NASDAQ:PTON) offerings: a digital-only subscription offer that provides access to a content library of virtual fitness classes.

The question is: Will Apple be giving Peloton a run for its money?

Following the report of possible competition from Apple, shares of Peloton, the trendy at-home fitness service that streams classes to a spin bike or treadmill, fell more than 4% in premarket trading — but then quickly recovered — and closed at $65.65, up 2%. Though Wall Street analysts remain confident that the exercise-bike company can maintain its lead in the virtual fitness space.

During the coronavirus pandemic, there has been an upsurge in interest for at-home fitness classes due to gym closures and a preference to reduce contact between individuals. During the pandemic period, guided workout app downloaded grew 220% year-on-year globally.

In broad strokes, the plan echoes products from Peloton and Nike, which offer streaming classes at a monthly price that is lower than your typical gym membership — a trend that has recently gained popularity as people have been flocking to at-home fitness classes during the coronavirus pandemic that has forced temporary gym closures across the globe. As a result, Peloton shares have been up more than 120% this year thanks to a surge in sales for its bikes and treadmills, even garnering diehard fans that some would consider ‘cultish’.

Apple’s new fitness app will be available on the company’s devices, like the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV, while Peloton’s offerings are tied to hardware devices such as bikes and treadmills. As compared to Apple, Peloton already offers thousands of on-demand classes in addition to live-streamed ones. Whilst the former has lots of groundwork to be done, given how its recent new video streaming platform does not have a particularly robust content catalogue. It is also unclear how much Apple’s fitness subscription service would cost. Though it might make sense to bundle it with the Apple Watch.

In Q3 2019, Peloton’s digital-only subscription revenue represented only 1% of total revenue, which means that the biggest value in digital subscribers for the company is their potential conversion to connected fitness subscribers.

“We think Apple’s new fitness app could compete vs. Peloton’s digital only subscription offer, but will have limited impact on Peloton’s connected fitness base that uses Peloton’s bike or a tread,” Bank of America Securities Analyst, Justin Post wrote. “Longer-term, it is unclear whether Apple would partner with other at-home fitness hardware companies, or create its own proprietary bike/tread, though we think former is more likely than the latter.”

One potential partnership could be ReflectFitness Asia, a one-stop portal filled with digital classes on demand or live-streamed, and supported with resources related to fitness, health, and exercise. Launching in October, ReflectFitness builds upon its community roots and creates a digital ecosystem that revolutionises the way people exercise and consume fitness related information. ReflectFitness aims to make exercising in the comfort of home, at the user’s own time, simple and convenient. Operating with paired accessories such as heart rate monitors to track output and progress after each workout, world-class Reflect instructors will provide live and on-demand one-on-one style workouts including Strength, Cardio, Yoga, Pilates, Barre, Kickboxing, and Zumba, all within the ReflectFitness ecosystem. The portal also allows users to compete with friends through community challenges and leader boards, creating an exciting platform to engage friends and family on the user’s fitness journey.

Categories
Culture Games Highlights

Luxury Fashion Brands Get Into Gaming And Play It Right

At first thought, fashion and gaming may seem like an unlikely duo. But if the fashion industry were to ensure it continues to be accessible and relevant in every way possible, it would seem almost ignorant to cash in on the gaming trend as esports becomes more mainstream. 

The COVID-19 lockdown has led to an acceleration of various trends. And perhaps this is why the convergence of both industries may not come as a surprise, as more and more major fashion houses and fast-fashion giants want in on a piece of that gaming pie. Besides, with thousands of gamers in the virtual world, what better place than that to reach out to potential customers. If you can’t flaunt it in real life, you do so online by dressing your avatar in new skins, clothing, and accessories from various brands. What’s more, these fashion brands would also be able to reach out to a much younger audience, a group that is relatively harder to get to. 

But before we get into the subject itself, let’s have a look at the numbers. According to research firm Newzoo, the online gaming industry generated approximately US$138.7 billion in sales last year, and is most likely to rake in US$159.3 billion this year — that’s about a 10% growth! And by next year, this is likely to exceed US$180 billion. Now here’s something more interesting. If you were expecting teen boys to constitute the bulk of mobile game users, you’re sorely mistaken. Because 63 per cent of them are women. That’s right. And according to a marketing report by Liftoff, female gamers are 79 per cent more likely to make an in-app purchase than their male counterparts. A research from Mindshare has also shown that over half of esports fans are millennials, a generation that is reaching their prime spending years. So whether it’s a small in-game purchase or for the whole gaming experience, the esports industry has definitely proven to be a viable avenue for fashion brands to get to potential customers, and convert them into loyal clients.

In all honesty, you would probably have seen this coming. Some 20 years ago, fashion brands were already making their foray into the gaming industry, and exploring this territory by venturing into games like ‘The Sims’. Or just like how Moschino and Diesel opened virtual boutiques in ‘Second life’ in the early 2000s.

Louis Vuitton recently entered a partnership with US-based developer Riot Games, the business behind the famous ‘League of Legends’ online championship which saw 100 million global e-spectators watch its finale last November. All it took for the French fashion house to ensure maximum visibility was for its Creative Director, Nicolas Ghesquière, to design an outfit for one of the characters in the game during the finale.

And most recently, on March 20 in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Japan’s Nintendo launched ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’, a social simulation game that invites its players to control digital avatars live on paradise islands and indulge in various sorts of peaceful activities including gardening, DIY, fishing, and even having picnics with neighbours. In just a span of a few weeks, it sold over 10 million units and became the star game of the lockdown.

With increased possibilities for customisation and dressing up your avatar, it certainly didn’t take much to lure fashion brands to Animal Crossing. It’s in-game ‘Pro Designs’ function allows users to make their own outfits by reproducing the trendiest pieces from brands like Prada, Gucci, Chanel, Dior, and even streetwear labels like Stüssy and Supreme.

This surge in creativity spilled over to social media, with players creating dedicated profiles just to share their outfits. One such example that capitalised on this want for fashion-savvy avatars is Nook Street Market, recreating looks from luxury labels like Chanel, Off-White, Vivienne Westwood, and Fendi. This buzz prompted brands including Valentino, Marc Jacobs, and many others to offer their own designs to Animal Crossing players — offering them the ability to access virtual clothing and accessories for free via special codes which can be obtained from Instagram stories.

And it doesn’t really matter that the in-game outfits are simplified, and without details. Perhaps what’s fascinating is how these luxury labels are still able to command desirability even in the virtual world, making the gaming industry a viable way for brands to reach out to a new clientele, and even strengthen relationships with their pre-existing fans.

In recent years, designer labels like Burberry and Gucci have even created their own games. Similarly, Italy’s LUISAVIAROMA has also just launched the ‘Mod4’ application, which gamifies the shopping experience. ‘Client players’ are invited to create their own avatar, browse items offered by the store, and take part in contests with other players.

Perhaps this is part of the new normal, an increasingly virtual world that has forced fashion to switch from e-commerce, digital showrooms, and even online fashion weeks, to the gaming industry, a new territory with immense potential for its businesses to diversify.

Categories
Gaming Review

Fall Guys: Rises Above The Rest

Release date: 5 August 2020

Platform: PC, PS4

Developer: Mediatonic

Publisher: Mediatonic

The good:

  • Oddly addictive
  • Colourful and absurd
  • Gets you hooked every level
  • Pushing friends off platforms

The bad:

  • Slow character progression
  • Technical bugs in the game

 

30 seconds. That’s all you need to fall in love with Fall Guys. No plot twist required. No need to unlock any game-changing ability either. Unlike certain games that take an hour or two of gameplay before it grows on you, Fall Guys subverts the battle royale genre and turns it into a wild party. Imagine if Call of Duty: Warzone, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and Mario Party had an illegitimate child. Intense? Definitely. Cute? Yes. Well, if a battle royale with 60 jelly beans dressed as owls, dinosaurs, pineapples, and more isn’t, we don’t know what is. But trust us, trying to survive until the end and walk away with the coveted crown will give you anxiety with the barrage of gunfire. While it feels like your typical battle royale, it actually is a battle royale unlike any other. The best part? No guns. Just fun. And you’ll still feel like a winner even though you have lost.

A full match takes about 3-5 rounds, each of which are randomly selected from a field of 24 different levels. And what’s amazing is each level brings a different type of fun. Think bouncy players racing across giant seesaws to advance, and sprinting up a hill, shoving other players while trying to avoid massive fruits. Every level doesn’t fail to surprise, and there’s definitely something for everyone.

While there are no private games at the moment, you can still invite friends to games. Unfortunately, there are no squad-based modes either, but it’s still fun to keep track of your friends and witness their victories and defeats, which will crack you up all the same. The game can get infuriating on some levels too, especially when players do not follow the rules in soccer mode rounds like ‘Fall Ball’ and the ever so messy ‘Egg Scramble’. That said, whether you’re playing alone or together with friends, you’ll definitely enjoy every level regardless.

Run. Jump. Dive. Grab. That’s all there is to the game. And that’s what makes it beautiful. Even a first-timer would seem like a seasoned gamer. It’s simple, especially how certain gamers would shy away from the battle genre given how intense it can get. Fall Guys is filled with many silly mini-games that will provide just as many silly moments. It’s easy to play and there’s a lot of mass appeal for sure. It’s wickedly fun too. Just wait till you use ‘grab’ to hold someone in place until they fall off a sinking platform, or drag someone down to elimination with you. Well, just because you can’t win doesn’t mean you can’t succeed in making others lose!

View this post on Instagram

🚨🎙¿Quieres ver Fall Guys en Switch o Xbox One? Dile a sus creadores🎙🚨 . Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout es el juego del momento y es que su fresca fórmula Battle Royale está divirtiendo a muchos. Su gran problema es que sólo está disponible en PlayStation 4 y PC, por lo que muchos no pueden probarlo; sin embargo, existe la posibilidad de que llegue a más plataformas, sólo tienes que pedirlo. . En su página de soporte, Mediatonic, estudio de Fall Guys, señaló que existe la posibilidad de que su juego llegue a más consolas.  . Ahora bien, antes de que Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout llegue a otras plataformas es necesario que la comunidad muestre interés en ello. Así pues, si quieres que llegue a Xbox One o Nintendo Switch, te recomendamos que se lo digas a Mediatonic en Twitter o Discord. . Y a ti, ¿te gustaría ver Fall Guys en Xbox One o Nintendo Switch? Cuéntanos en los comentarios. ————————————————— #ElCuervoGeek @Maty_poblete_zamora ————————————————— #Ps4 #Pc #Xbox #Switch #Videojuegos #FallGuys #2020 #2021 #somosgeeks #GeeksChilenos #GeeksEnVallenar #Sueñenengrande #AmamosLosJuegos #Gamers #Logamerjamasduermen

A post shared by El Cuervo Geek (@elcuervo_geek) on

All in the name of fun

Yes, it’s a battle royale game. And it’s anything but intense. Frankly speaking, it really is pretty easy to get into the groove of things. Each round lasts about 2 minutes, and even though elimination comes early for most, defeat still tastes rather sweet. 

The colour palette is bright. The soundtrack is energetic. More than just a party game, Fall Guys is in itself the party! Not a gamer? That’s alright too. It’s just as entertaining watching the game.

Because you’ll still feel like you’re part of it even though you’re just spectating. As much as it is a thoroughly exhilarating game to both watch and play, if you’re into highly competitive games, the randomness of Fall Guys may not be something that you’d appreciate. What we didn’t really appreciate was the physics of the game. It’s unpredictable and you’ll get “crowdsurfing” jelly bean avatars piling on top of each other. And as funny as that may sound, it actually gets frustrating. What’s more, each level begins with players randomly placed at the starting line, and if you are highly competitive, you’d realise that a front or side placement would give you a slight advantage over the others. To the more lighthearted competitors, it’d just be an irresistible mix of skill and luck. Truth be told, it’s a game that favours good fortune, and no one would be able to rely on their skills forever. While that’s something not every player would enjoy, Fall Guys is all about having fun unlike most other battle royale games. You actually feel good when you lose. And besides, you’ll only be a few seconds away from beginning anew with 59 other goofballs. Also with Fall Guys, there’s no such thing as ‘just one game’.

You can also show off your jellybean-like avatars by dressing them up in costumes, emotes and colourful patterns. And if you’d like to unlock items, be sure to come out on top with more wins, and by levelling up. Alternatively, you could just purchase them. Don’t worry, they are all reasonably priced. Kudos (pretty cute, huh?), the game’s currency, can be obtained through regular play or even purchased with money. And costumes, emotes as well as colour patterns go for about 800 Kudos a pop. But if you’re not willing to part with your money that’s ok, you just got to spend more time on the game. And just as you thought things can’t get any better, this is only ‘Season 1’ according to Mediatonic, which only means that it’s highly likely for the game to have new levels, or even cosmetics! 

If there was anything wrong with the game, it’d definitely have to be its congested servers. But hey, this only means that it’s popular! With Fall Guys, Mediatonic didn’t just break the rules, they basically rewrote it. And to put it simply, Fall Guys is like battle royale. But on crack. 

4/5 stars

Categories
Gaming Review

Gears Tactics: Struggles To Find Its Groove

Release date: 28 April 2020

Platform: PC

Developer: Splash Damage, The Coalition

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios

The good:

  • Just as good as Gears of War
  • Immersive action

The bad:

  • Unexciting missions
  • Unrelatable plot and characters

 

The line between turn-based strategy and all-out aggression is a fine one to tread, and Gears Tactics barely strikes a balance. And though it seems like a desperate attempt, it’s still a commendable effort translating the character of Gears’ combat to a new arena, albeit losing some of its spirit.

The pace is generally fast, with each of its turns defined by the amount of viscera you can pull from guts to ground. Despite that, the game play is still fairly smooth and will have you easing off the throttle of the thumbsticks. And even as manoeuvers may be executed with just the click of a mouse, you’d be thoroughly engaged. You’ll find yourself flanking routes, carving out holes in enemy lines and being in waist-high cover.

And while it’s fast, smart and aggressive, it has its slow, shallow and meek moments as well when the action subsides. That said, it’s still a Gears of War game at heart.

Differently geared

Fans of Firaxis’ XCOM would be able to detect its similarities at one glance. Yet, Gears Tactics does more than enough to be authentically Gears of War, setting itself apart with the pace of gameplay as well as the removal of the movement grid.

For one, by removing the movement grid, you have more freedom to experiment than you would in a turn-based strategy game. The combat is freeform, with each of your Gears equipped with a baseline of three action points that can be spent at your discretion on any combination of movement, shooting, and skills. A simple but small decision with huge potential, this makes Gears Tactics feel more like a traditional action game.

You’d find yourself weaving effortlessly between points of cover, rotating freely between your Gears in the field, and responding readily to threats as they emerge from the fog of war, airdrop into sprawling arenas, and crawl out of Emergence holes. To engage, you can choose to stand and fire until you expend all your action points, move your soldiers into advantageous positions, or just use them in any combination you’d like to command. Simply put, Gears Tactics has ironed out the kinks of the XCOM combat system, made it faster, and also more aggressive.

Though Gears Tactics has carved out its own space in the genre, there are certain aspects that are reminiscent of Overwatch, like the cone representing your zone of sight that gets triggered when anything moves within it. Except, it’s more aggressive, and can be used to thin enemy lines, as opposed to defending your position. 

It’s a Gears game first and foremost, and with all its systems at play it definitely feels like one, rather than some strategy game wearing its skin. And you’d also find yourself pushing through masses of enemies during the later part of the game, which will require you to tap on the combined strength of your squad, as well as chain together skills and executions.

There are five specialised classes in all — Heavy, Scout, Sniper, Support, and Vanguard. Each with its own strengths and limitations. Plus, they can also be upgraded and heavily customised throughout the game. The trick, however, is to maintain a balanced squad by ensuring the skills learned by each unit complements the rest. Skill trees allow you to invest in any of the four combat proficiencies, giving you access to Active and Passive abilities to take on your relentless enemies.

Now here’s the fun part — gaming the game. It’s possible to create huge chains of death with a well-balanced squad, and by flanking routes. The result? Taking down your enemies in just one turn without sustaining any damage. How isn’t that fun? So if you put the ‘tactics’ into Gears Tactics, you’d be handsomely rewarded. The game is all about aggressiveness. And if you fancy a different gaming strategy, you’d find yourself losing members in your squad, and getting overwhelmed by your enemies. Unfortunately, that’s the only way to succeed in Gears Tactics, and it struggles to offer anything more than that.

Completely thrown out of gear

Though the game is much like XCOM, the way it handles downtime is pale in comparison. While it’s true that you’ll spend much of the game engaged with your enemies, there’s actually no base to grow and evolve. Instead, you’ll spend all your time devoted to levelling up your units, customising looks and going through lists of weapons and armours to create the most powerful combinations.

The good thing is, there are lots of equipment to play, especially when you hunt down storage crates amidst the chaos of combat, as well as completing mission modifiers. That said, it does get a little uninteresting after awhile, given the sheer amount of equipment available.

On the contrary, the pacing of Gears Tactics is commendable. You’d find yourself spending hours and hours on the game just because of its difficulty. And as much as it has done a great job in terms of combat, you’d begin seeing its flaws if you were to look beyond the violence. It’s essentially 20 hours of violence. And there’s a lack of heart. The focus on family that every Gears game is known for isn’t present here, making its plot and characters unrelatable.

Story-driven strategy games are never easy to pull off, and there’s much to be learned from StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty, as well as the benchmark it has set years ago. The cutscenes and character lack polish and depth compared to Gears of War 4 and 5. It’s stiff. It’s disjointed. It’s anything but a cohesive adventure you’d be excited to play all the way to the end. What’s more, the missions are repetitive and dry. And did we mention how the insipid side quests are stifling because they are forced on you so that you can try new squad compositions? 

With all that said and done, there’s still a lot to love about Gears Tactics. Sure, the action may distract you from its flaws. But that doesn’t mean they do not exist.

2.5/5 Stars

Categories
Gaming Review

Maneater: Something To Get Your Teeth Into

Release date: 22 May 2020

Platform: PC, Xbox One, PS4

Developer: Tripwire Interactive

Publisher: Tripwire Interactive

The good:

  • Scaring and attacking humans
  • Lots of things to do (read as: chew)
  • Entertaining voiceover

The bad:

  • Repetitive after a few plays
  • Challenging final battle

 

If you’d consider hunting catfish and turtles entertaining, the gory and silly Maneater is something you’d want to sink your teeth into. Though you’d just be a pup vulnerable to barracuda and shark hunters, you’re going to have to binge on everything in sight to gain body mass and grow, in order to swim to the top of the food chain and wreak bloody havoc. And if you think you may feel guilty from all that hunting, fret not. Because the residents of Port Clovis are painted in an unpleasant light with the piles of garbage in the ocean and the nuclear power plants in the background. So you are essentially lending Mother Nature a hand and doing the ecosystem a huge favour. 

Eat. Eat. Eat. Repeat.

See those humans hanging out on the beach? Or that boat you’re swimming right below? Or even the seals, grouper, and hammerhead sharks around you? Eat them all. Yes, that’s what the game’s all about. And that’s how you’ll be progressing from one mission to another. Each area will also have its own apex predator the likes of a(n) alligator, barracuda or orca issuing you a challenge. It’s essentially a battle of the fittest. Other water activities that may interest you include obtaining collectibles like nutrient caches to bulk up, landmarks to discover, or even collecting license plates. Sure it might sound repetitive but wait till you start going after petrified beach goers or spring a surprise on that unsuspecting person soaking up the Sun on his inflatable unicorn. And if that’s not enough to keep you entertained, you have Chris Parnell (Jerry Smith from Rick and Morty; Dr. Leo Spaceman from 30 Rock) to talk you through every area in the game, including the clown from It in an underground tunnel, a crashed UFO, as well as the wreck of a Titanic recreation cruise. 

Hunt or be hunted

Much like the Wanted Level system in Grand Theft Auto, every person and boat you attack increases your level of Infamy. Which will turn the tide and draw the attention of more and more hunters. And then you’ll find divers, lasers, and even explosives right on your tail. That’s definitely enough to keep you on your toes (or fins!). Sure you could dive into the depths to evade them, but with big risks come big rewards. Take them on and you’ll get a new Evolution like a Bio-Electric tail, or even a Bone Jaw, making you a bigger threat in the water. Each new Evolution you obtain from the nutrients of different prey can also be upgraded, making your sonar more effective, or even enabling you to survive longer on land. So if you’re in need of some excitement, all you have to do is keep eating your way through the game.

Blood is thicker than water

The plot revolves around you baying for Scaly Pete’s blood, the redneck hunter who killed your mother and scarred you. And the final fight with him is not a walk in the park.

As much as you’d question the science behind the game, it serves as a perfect distraction from the world around us. One might even find it oddly therapeutic. The waters are your playground. There’s mischief to be made in the resorts, water parks, and even marinas, especially when you start filling them with blood, or tossing someone right into the air with a flick of your tail.

4/5 STARS

Categories
Gaming Review

The Sims 4: Eco Lifestyle Gets The Green Light

Release date: 5 June 2020

Platform: PC, Xbox One, PS4

Developer: Maxis, The Sims Studio

Publisher: EA

The good:

  • New hairstyles & accessories
  • Lives up to its name of being eco-friendly
  • Dynamic gameplay

The bad:

  • Tedious neighbourhood action plans
  • Ugly new outfits

 

With The Sims 4 expansion packs, you always get hits or misses. From the unexciting Get to Work, and the uneventful Get Together, to the game-changing Pets, and life-changing Seasons. Fortunately, Eco Lifestyle is an exciting and extensive addition that falls closer to the latter on the expansion pack spectrum. 

Every neighbourhood from Glimmerbrook and San Myshuno, to the all-new Evergreen Harbour, can result in eco-footprints affected by your gameplay. For instance, you’d find your Sim wheezing and coughing in the smoggy environment of a heavily-industrialised neighbourhood. Possibly the most political expansion pack in The Sims 4 to date, its developers are definitely making a statement about going green.

Green is the new black

It seems almost hard to avoid the stereotypes when the game is all about living the eco-friendly lifestyle. And as much as it’s a cliche, it makes perfect sense to do so. Because who better than Sims with partially-shaved heads and septum-piercings to go with all that candle making, kombucha brewing, bug farming, and gardening. One may say it’s stereotyping. But we say it’s fitting.

Try out different new hairstyles including a space bun with bangs, shaved undercut, a messy up-do held together by chopsticks, or even a new beard for guys. And there’s a new paper bag head accessory and more piercing options too. From the edgy to the eccentric, these new additions are going to be the mane attraction of the game for you. And while it succeeds in making a green statement with new upcycled clothing options, it fails terribly in making a fashion statement with how they look. Who wears denim on denim? That said, It’s a very solid concept with many opportunities to dumpster dive for goodies, recycle unused items, and even make your own homewares and artisanal beverages.

It’s not easy being eco-friendly

Get ready to spend more time if you’re planning to save the world. Well, at least in The Sims 4: Eco Lifestyle. Because Eco Lifestyle will make you work doubly hard for just half the pay-off. With alternative energy sources like wind turbines, solar panels, and even dew collectors, You’d find yourself working harder just so that your Sim can flush the toilet bowl. Likewise, you’d find your Sim diving into a nice meal after a rigorous session of dumpster diving session. Need a bath after your meal? It’d be a toss up between staying clean and going green because your Sim won’t be able to shower for long after using the power to make a meal. Which stinks, literally. Because you’ll find your Sim smelling and feeling like shit.

Go green and get into the routine

You can go green by growing some greens in the vertical garden on the rooftop of the shipping container. Add a few garden plots and grow your own food for consumption and for sale. Be warned that you won’t find your plants growing in the dead of winter —all thanks to the Seasons expansion pack. Or you could could turn your house green by building a makeshift greenhouse in it!

Plus, you can also take part in neighbourhood action plans, such as green gardening. But you’d have to spend time walking the ground and be active in your grassroots efforts to rally support.

No walk in the park

The gameplay of Eco Lifestyle is by no means easy, just as it is with going green in reality. But these mechanics only serve to make the gameplay realistic. If you’re planning to make a change, you got to lay the groundwork. And that’s no walk in the park.

4.5/5 STARS

Categories
Gaming Review

Minecraft Dungeons: Hits A Few Stumbling Blocks

Release date: 26 May 2020

Platform: PC, Xbox One

Developer: Mojang Studios

Publisher: Microsoft

The good:

  • Gets you hooked easily
  • Classic Minecraft
  • Refreshing take on the Minecraft franchise

The bad:

  • Slightly oversimplified
  • Short gameplay

 

A dungeon crawler may seem like a highly unlikely choice to be part of the Minecraft franchise, but if you were to give it a try, you’d realise that it actually makes sense. Besides, the franchise has never disappointed in making the action RPG genre a happy home for entertainment centred around co-op and creativity.  

Fighting. Collecting. Levelling. That’s all you have to know about the game. And all you need to succeed in the many different levels filled with enemies and loot is just 10 hours of gameplay, and three other friends. Then explore every nook and cranny, engage with dispatching mobs, and be served with classic Minecraft twists.

And if you’re keen enough, there’s even a plot beyond all that hacking and slashing to provide some context, as well as an evil king with a mystical orb of power that you need to defeat. But that’s all there is to it. Also, if cutscenes are your thing, you would probably appreciate the high production value of it. That said, they probably should have invested a little more in developing the storyline instead.

Play out of the box

While the storyline may fall short of your expectations, the other elements of the game are thankfully compelling enough to carry it. And if you were expecting Dungeon to follow the action RPG template, you’ll be in for a big surprise. Because Mojang has ditched the traditional class-based roles to offer greater room for character customisation and progression. Your role on the battlefield will be determined by your gear. That’s right. Your armour, weapons, enchantments, potions, and artefacts will combine and react with each other like a high school chemistry experiment. The results are always different, but it’s fun and entertaining all the same. Sometimes even visually spectacular!

What this means is you can be anything you want to be, even a warhammer-wielding wizard-like healer. And the results have clearly proven that there’s no harm ditching the rules and embracing the volatility of experimentation. 

Of course, its stellar gameplay mechanics have also helped to contribute to the overall game experience. The combat is fluid and polished, making every strike and swing exhilarating and satisfying. A natural extension of the Minecraft universe, if you have enjoyed all its previous release, you probably would like everything about Dungeons —from self-combusting creepers and animal dropping health-restoring meat to lava pools. Mojang has deftly combined familiar sights with dazzling new environments that will make you love the Minecraft universe even more. And we guarantee it will be a delightful treat. Unlike your typical dungeon crawler, the game can easily be completed in six hours. But you can throw in a few more if you’d like to try its New Game Plus modes, or even vary its difficulty. 

As much as we love the game, we definitely feel that Mojang could have offered a little more to increase the entertainment value of Dungeons. Likewise, ditching the conventions of your typical RPG comes at a price. There are no skill trees, class composition or even loot customisation. And while you may purchase randomly generated loot from vendors at your home base, outside the levels themselves, that’s just about it. Essentially while Dungeons offers plenty of room for experimentation, it falls short in terms of character progression. So if you enjoy the high-level tinkering of an RPG, Dungeons is possibly something you would grow out of in the long run. That said, Mojang has promised to deliver updates to the game in the future.

Does it tick all the right boxes?

There’s no doubt that Minecraft Dungeons ticks all the right boxes in the hack and slash genre, and has enough flair and polish to be recommended to anyone. Yet, it only meets the bare minimum of what you would expect from an action-RPG in terms of its storyline, replay value, and character development. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if some would find the game addictive, but your fun will be short-lived with only so much to hack and slash. 

3.5/5 STARS

Categories
Gaming Review

Rocket Arena: A Literal Blast

Release date: 14 July 2020

Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One

Developer: Final Strike Games

Publisher: EA

The good:

  • Easy, approachable
  • Brilliant gameplay
  • Varied characters and abilities

The bad:

  • Cost
  • Microtransactions

 

Highly explosive and incredibly competitive. An explosion of characters and colours, Rocket Arena is a 3v3 online multiplayer experience that’s just like Quake, but for the younger Fortnite crowd. The question, however, is if this premium indie team-based multiplayer game will be able to soar to new heights. and reach the stratosphere in a world of cut-throat free-to-play competition. Or does it explode into bits?

While all 10 characters fire rockets, they all have different looks, stories, and special abilities. Jayto shoots fast, hard-hitting missiles. Kayi charges up explosive crossbow bolts for extra speed. And Blastbeard fires cannonballs. And while they each have their own distinct looks, ways of getting around and repelling enemies, they don’t particularly draw you in immediately.

Everybody fights. Nobody dies.

There’s lots of shooting. Explosions are aplenty. But ironically, nobody dies. That’s right. You basically just knock others around — ideally out of bounds — or you get knocked around. A meter at the bottom of your screen will indicate how far you’ll fly upon getting hit by enemy rockets, whether directly or indirectly by splash damage. And the only way to ‘recover’ is to avoid taking hits. And that’s possibly the best and worst aspect of Rocket Arena. While it’s a whole lot of fun sending your opponents all the way out to the stratosphere, it’s not exactly fun to be on the receiving end of this as you’ll be far from any cover.

And while shooting is one of the most primal joys of video gaming, Rocket Arena seems to have fallen short of expectations. Because with the amount of explosions, the game oddly doesn’t feel explosive enough. Yes, your reticle kicks. And your screen shakes. But that’s about it. A direct hit will take your meter out by a third, but you’ll find yourself returning fire right after whipping around. Compare this to the unadulterated exhilaration of scoring a crit in Team Fortress 2. Each blast is just like popping confetti. Except you get meaty giblets flying everywhere. But that’s perhaps the point of it all — to create a smooth, friendly, and watchable game, without huge, screen-shaking explosions, as well as the blood and gore.

And though Rocket Arena falls short in terms of action, the personality of the characters really shine through, which make up for its shortcomings. What’s more, you get to indulge in rocket jumping, and it’s way more accessible and forgiving. The best part? Your own blasts won’t hurt you. Which just means you get to knock yourself out on mastering the art of rocket gymnastics!

A high price to pay?

Available at $39.90, you can also purchase seasonal battle passes and individual items — character skins, blast-off tails — as micro transactions from a cash shop. While it’s purely aesthetics, you can get these items with its in-game currency. Which is basically a norm for shooter games.

Space for exploration

With full cross-play support cross consoles, Final Strike Games have also shared plans to keep Rocket Arena updated with seasons of new content. It’s only just the beginning for Rocket Arena, and this means that the only way for them to go is up! Talks of new characters, maps, and even game modes are underway. Wondering if it’s worth your time, money and effort? As it stands now, Rocket Arena  is a fresh and approachable take on shooters that’s worth every bang for your buck.

4/5 stars

Categories
Gaming Review

Ghost of Tsushima: PS4’s Swan Song That Hits All The Right Notes

Release date: 17 July 2020

Platform: PS4

Developer: Sucker Punch

Publisher: Sony Interactive

The good:

  • Beautiful visuals, soundtrack, and story telling
  • Kickass duels to keep you on your toes
  • Petting foxes

The bad:

  • A bleak beginning to its last act

 

Assassin’s Creed. But make it Japanese. A lesson in history, with rivetingly beautiful geography, Ghost of Tsushima is a feast for the eyes that captures the heart of samurai fantasy. One that immerses you in an authentic, beautiful, and satisfying journey on the island of Tsushima, during the 13th Century Mongol invasion of Japan. What starts off with one catastrophic battle will leave you wanting more with its multiple endings.

Beautiful storyline. Colourful characters.

Though slow to start, the plot catches on fairly quickly as Jin, the survivor of the Mongol invasion attempts to rescue his uncle, Lord Shimura from captivity. As the story develops, so do the tales of the characters around Jin. From the secretive and anger-filled matriarch of clan Adachi, Lady Masako, to Taka, the warrior monk Norio who is swallowed by grief, you’ll find yourself engrossed in these characters, just as you’ll get thoroughly lost in this staggeringly beautiful world. Packed with action and filled with quests, including side quests to earn you weapons and armours, and Mythic quests to learn special combat techniques — that’s how you’ll find yourself falling deeper and deeper into this samurai epic.

Fights that punch above their weight

From blades and bows, to bombs, the real satisfaction from all the action comes from your parries and powers. Just as you’ll feel the increasing adrenaline, every dodge, strike, and parry increases Resolve, which can be used to complete special attacks and heal. It’s about stances as much as it’s about swordplay in the Ghost of Tsushima. To succeed, you just need two things — mastering the four combat stances, and the art of timing. Because how you strike is just as important as when you strike. It’s nuanced. It’s calculated. And by the end, it should flow and feel right. It’s brutal, yet beautiful. Gory, yet graceful. Each combat is a delicate dance. And every strike — the perfect screenshot.

Beauty lies in the eyes of the PS4 controller holder

Just as its intense fight scenes will leave you breathless, the beauty of Tsushima is equally breathtaking. If not, more. Taking cues from Mother Nature, you’ll be led to waypoints by the wind, find bamboo strikes and hot springs with directions from golden birds, as well as foxes bringing you to Inari shrines. You can change the weather by playing your flute, and even learn new melodies from singing crickets. From pampas grass and bamboo forests, to lakes and mountains, it’s lush with foliage and teeming with colours. You’ll feel like you’re in a painting, or better still, an ASMR video.

And despite the vivid and vibrant colours that surround you, you’ll still be able to find spaces of solitude. Places that will allow you to compose haikus, shrines that sit atop mountains, as well as hot springs to bare your soul (and butt!).

You’ll also occasionally stumble upon empty buildings, camps, and villages in comparison to the lush environment, which feel like missed opportunities where more could have been done to enrich and enhance gameplay. Not to mention the final act, a bleak and stark contrast to the onslaught of colours in the first two acts, that will throw you off slightly and don’t quite match up to expectations.

That said, not only is Ghost of Tsushima a visual treat, it’s also a work of art that’s well thought, just as it’s well made.

The verdict

Stunning geography and rich in history, Ghost of Tsushima is a work of art. From the massive open world of Tsushima, right to the small details like the ink brush artwork that appears in cut scenes, as well as the Kurosawa Mode — a detailed black and white filter inspired by the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa — as much as it is flawed, the Ghost of Tsushima is a fitting swan song for the PS4.

4.5/5 stars

Categories
Gaming Review

The Last of Us 2: Intense to the Last Play

Release date: 9 June 2020

Platform: PS4

Developer: Naughty Dog

Publisher: Sony Interactive

The good:

  • Powerful, provocative plot
  • Fierce, intense combat
  • Breathtaking, highly realistic universe

The bad:

  • Ambitious narrative that occasionally loses its focus

 

Revenge is a dish best served cold. With a side of zombies. Intricately nuanced and exquisitely designed, The Last of Us 2 is a game that hooks you easily and draws you into its world. Pure misery porn — it’s dark, densely-packed, stunning, and unsettling at times. There’s a sense of empathy even for your enemies, and each play will have you seeing the game in a different light.

Back with a vengeance

If 2013’s The Last of Us was Ellie’s coming of age story, The Last of Us 2 sees Ellie coming back for revenge. Taking place five years after her adventure across a post-apocalyptic United States with Joel, Ellie is now on a warpath to take down those responsible for an unforgivable crime. And this witch-hunt takes her from the outskirts of Jackson County right into the middle of Seattle, as she battles to endure and survive the threats that come along the way.

Seemingly simple on a surface level, the story gets increasingly complex, surprising and sinister, compelling players to evaluate and assess the decisions they make for Ellie, as well as deal with the discomfort and distress that come along with them.

It’s about a day of gameplay, filled with many poignant moments along the way that will leave you deep in thought for the following days. In this exploration of the human psyche, you’ll find yourself treading the fine line between retaliation and restoring balance. It’s violent. It’s nihilistic. And it’s filled with moral ambiguity.

On a deeper level, this third-person action-adventure also traces Ellie’s personal journey, particularly her struggle with hatred and humanity. One which you’ll find yourself being drawn into just by her body language and facial expressions — all thanks to Naughty Dog’s groundbreaking facial animation technology.

The world is highly realistic accompanied with an equally compelling cast, including new additions like Dina, Jesse, and many others that prove to be as well-rounded as its returning cast. And if you enjoyed the giraffe scene from The Last of Us, you’d find some treasures in this latest instalment as you’ll get to see sides of Joel you’ve never seen before.

elliewillirms/Instagram

Big on the little details

A game that sees the big picture, and pays attention to the little details at the same time, Naughty Dog has stretched the parameters of its linear game design in this one to create an immersive world that is filled with many details waiting for players to pick up on.

Despite spending hours scavenging as much craftable material as Ellie can carry, you’ll find yourself enjoying every minute of it poring over the details in every building, forest, and even cavern. Each of these — a story to be uncovered, and a world to be discovered which will be revealed naturally through artefacts and clues that bring the space to life. And the best part about these places is that they are oddly familiar, yet foreign at the same time.

In The Last of Us 2, each mission adds a new dimension to the game. And while you’ll find yourself being guided on this journey, this exploration seems to occur organically because of its flow and pace, which makes it unpredictable and utterly compelling.

You’d also find that Ellie is also now much more capable in navigating terrain. Smashing windows, abseiling off walls, jumping from precarious heights, the game has definitely got much richer in terms of combat and exploration. Though these gameplay mechanics may be hardly novel in games from the same genre, Naughty Dog executes this skilfully with precision and perfection that would make you find it original and fresh. Quite possibly PlayStation’s best looking and most visually impressive title yet, the amount of detail put into crafting beautiful sun flares and the stunning skyline of Seattle during sunrise definitely warrants the same amount of attention.

thelastofus._.photos/Instagram

Combats that pack a punch

It’s the same guerilla-style combat, only faster and more intense. Naughty Dog’s most advanced enemy, AI, will keep you on your toes for sure. Fortunately, Ellie can now also float between stealth and open combat mode more easily, using post-apocalyptic overgrowth as natural cover, and manoeuvring between small gaps just to evade enemies.

And if you’re caught, you’d best be ready for gunfire and explosives. Be prepared for things to get intensive as you engage in close combat, as you’ll never ever be conditioned to the raw violence in the game. The Infected are also more terrifying than ever. Clickers will still send shivers down your spine. And don’t even get us started on the Shamblers, which we’ll leave you to find out on your own. Naughty Dog has definitely played up on the fear factor that will surprise, impress, and spook you out in equal measure. That said, you can now arm Ellie with new craftable tools like trip mines and explosive arrows, as well as equip her with new skills from the addition of skill trees unlocked via Supplements and Hobbyist Magazines found across Seattle. The combat has also become more realistic, with more opportunities for collateral damage. Naughty Dog has also paid extra attention to the details of weapon workbenches, which is back in Part 2, along with new firearms. Just like clockwork, these systems and mechanics operate seamlessly in The Last of Us 2, which has been impeccably designed.

bradmetalxd, Instagram

Flawed, but fantastic

Some may find its plot overwritten and convoluted, which can feel a little excessive at times. And though this is rare at best, it still doesn’t undermine the gameplay. The story’s ending this time round is great too, but one can’t help but feel that it fails to match up to the ending of The Last of Us.

That said, The Last of Us 2 is still a masterpiece. But no masterpiece is perfect. There’s so much more we’d like to share about this game, but we figure it’s best to leave you to figure it out for yourself. It’s daring. It’s uncompromising. And this progressive and interactive adventure would be unlike anything you’ve played before.

The Last of Us 2 has definitely taken the story to the next level and proven itself to be a sequel that is necessary. Yet, its story still has the ability to stand by itself, and we are certain it won’t fall short of your expectations.

4.5/5 stars